ON WRITING

Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. A. L. Kennedy

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

#WEPff challenge - UNRAVELED YARN - My yarn, A Thirst Before Dying.

It's time for the Write...Edit...Publish challenge again. Open to all, this month the prompt is UNRAVELED YARN.


I've chosen to re-post a story I wrote for #FridayFlash several years ago. I've done some re-imagining as I thought of it right away when I saw the challenge.
A Thirst Before Dying is a TALL STORY set in the Queensland outback. I was actually born on the edge of the Queensland Outback, so I love writing about it.
I've added some images of Australia for you, which will be helpful if you know little/nothing about our culture, especially our indigenous culture.

Indigenous Australians are not only the most profoundly disadvantaged group in Australian society, some say in the world, but they're certainly the most discriminated against because they're misunderstood. 
There are some references in this story you may not get, but suffice to say in Colonial Australia, Aboriginals were often referred to by a collective title, 'Jacky-Jacky' and Aboriginals used to wryly call themselves 'King George' after the English king at this time. Of course, Indigenous Australians ran rings around the 'white ghosts' when it came to surviving the outback. 
If you want to know more about surviving in the outback, watch the Australian movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence, the true story of three little girls who followed the outback rabbit-proof fence for nine weeks, covering 1,500 miles (2,400 klms) to return to their community after being snatched during the Stolen Children debacle.
So, here's one of my favorite stories, told in a sort-of stream-of-consciousness way...
Aboriginal Rock Art

A Thirst Before Dying

You don’t want me to stay with you?

No. I’d prefer to be alone.

I could stay…until…

No, it’s best to leave now, Herb. Find a way out of this god-forsaken country.

Look, Paddy, there’s water down the valley. I know it. I’ll come back with some.

Don’t worry about me, matey. Listen to me croak. Let’s invent our own bush lore — every man for himself. None of this laying down your life for your mate…

I feel bad…

No need, Herb. Just go and let me get on with it. You’d be a silly bugger to stay here. You’re the lucky one. You know I haven’t got a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving. I’m roasting from the inside out. I’m done for…

But…Paddy…

Go, you ugly bugger. Wipe that doleful look off your face.  Get on with it. At least one of us silly buggers will survive.

Look, it’s my fault. I was the one who got us lost. I thought I knew where I was...

Turns out you didn’t, but we aren’t the first and we won’t be the last to be tricked by the Australian bush. We broke every rule—walking away from the car, not enough water, then I go and break my bloody leg to boot. No chance of me getting out of here. Think about it. Go!

***
I woke to throbbing in my busted leg. I screamed as I rolled over, took deep breaths, tried not to pass out. How fat it’d gotten while I drowsed. I lay there, trying to will myself to feel nothing even though the sun was frying me like an egg on a car bonnet.

How will it feel to die of thirst?

I read in National Geographic about an old salt who survived seven days in the Arizona desert without water. Well, it’s about three days for me so far and I know I’m not going to break Mr Valencia’s record.

I ran my tongue around my mouth…saliva thick as paste. My tongue clung to my teeth and the roof of my mouth. A golf ball in my throat. My head and neck throbbed like I'd been hit with a golf club.

I started working on the strokes to perfect my golf handicap. A completely useless activity, but it helped take my mind off the pain.

My face felt like a full moon and my skin was like crackly parchment. Before long I’d be a raving lunatic. Hallucinating. Please don’t let me be around when that happens.

It was a tossup between pain and thirst. 

Which would kill me?

***
I’d fallen to my side while I slept. Was I going to die lolling around like some old abandoned guy in a nursing home? With a few grunts and groans I managed to heave myself up and prop my back against the red sandy rock.

The dry valley spread before me, shimmering in the heat. I swore I saw water, but I knew a mirage when I saw one.  The red and ochre of the steep gorges soothed me, taking my mind off the possibilities of that inland sea.

I’ve always loved this country, especially the outback. Unforgiving though. Only the toughest survive. Add smartest to that. Not smart to get lost, run out of petrol, run out of water.

Old Herb. I hoped he’d been smart enough to find water by now or he’d be propping up a rock too, or roasting in the sand like a pig on a spit.

***

My eyes were just slits, but I watched a pair of wedge-tailed eagles fly between the harsh blue sky and the ochre cliffs like children at play. I kept vigil like a protective parent.

It was a brutal world out here in the desert. I waved my arm around the red valley: I hereby name you ‘Tarrangaua’. It meant ‘rough red hill’ in Aborigine. I smiled to myself, feeling smart as King George.

A thick pain punched my chest. There was a whooshing in my ears. 

Here comes the deafness...

A crunching sound reverberated around my head. I swear the rock shook, so I must have reached the hallucinating stage. Didn't even need a pill! Gave them up years ago. I grinned, feeling my gums and teeth protrude like some zombie's.


‘What you doin’ sittin’ here in the sun, you silly bugger? Hardly Bondi Beach, you bum.’

My time had come. Looming over me was the Grim Reaper. A wobbly outline of a face. I blinked and it morphed into the ace of spades…with hair and beard white as snow. Topped with an Akubra hat with silver studs glinting in the sun.

‘Jacky-Jacky?’ Every Australian knows an Aboriginal tracker is called Jacky-Jacky, even a city slicker like me.

‘No mate, I’m not Jacky-Jacky. I’m Mr Theodore White, but who’s askin’? Looks like you could use some help before you turn into one tough piece of steak.’

‘Hey, I’m King George,’ I said only half-joking. Who am I again? 

‘That's my line. He died long ago, mate. You don’t wanna be him.’

He cradled my head in one of his massive black hands and let me take a few sips from his coolamon.

Coolamon
The water tasted real enough. Its coolness was the most beautiful thing. But I had trouble slugging it past that golf ball in my throat.

‘That’s enough, King George. Only a drop at a time or it’ll kill ya.’

I tried not to cry like a baby when he took the bottle away.

‘Found ya old mate.’ He tended my leg with ancient Aboriginal lore guiding his hands.

‘What? Who?’ I rasped. Oh no. Old Herb.

‘Poor old bugger. Roasting in a dry riverbed down there.’ He pointed into the red valley. ‘Musta gone to sleep thinkin’ he was in the water, seein' a mirage. No savin’ him. His face was burned to a crisp. But looks like you’ll make it. Ain’t you the lucky one? No one should die alone.’

I hope you enjoyed my story. Please click on names at the top of my sidebar with DL (Direct Link) after the name. This means the story is up and ready.

Thanks for reading and commenting and sharing if you would be so kind.




48 comments:

  1. Loud cheers from here.
    How I love seeing our sadly misunderstood and resilient Aboriginals in a starring role.
    And you are so right about the outback. Incredibly beautiful, and equally unforgiving.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. You don't see it very often, do you? Maybe I'll write more from the indigenous POV>

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  2. This story does so many things to me. The struggle to find a way back, to find water, and his friend leaving him there so he could bring help. The irony is that the separation caused one of them to die. Maybe, if they had stayed together, they both would be alive.

    Thanks also for giving us indepth details about the indigenous Australians. I've read some history about them. I always find it amazing how we can talk about affluence societies regardless of which country it is, where the affluent are not the population that was planted there but the ones who have taken it over.
    Great job.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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    1. So true, Pat. In many ways, the indigenous is a hidden history where more should be told.

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  5. Wow. I love your story of the outback, Denise.
    Your first person POV engaging as always. Spot on with the male voices. What a twist at the end. If only Herb had not left. Sometimes what we are searching for would be right there if we'd exercise a little more patience, but fear gets the better of us. It was useful to have the references explained, I learned something new.

    Adura xx


    PS: An Appeal to the Writing Community

    Dear Denise,

    Kindly indulge me as time is running out and it would be sad for David, a really talented poet, to lose this opportunity. It is still possible if we as a community rally behind him. I hope you don't mind, Denise, if I leave an appeal here.

    Please help support my writer-partner and best friend who needs financial help to get a student visa to study for his MA in creative writing in the UK. David has been awarded an international scholarship but needs financial help to cover his living expenses. David is open to all donations and I'm fundraising on his behalf. We would also appreciate people sharing the link on social media. Thank you so much for your support.

    Please click on the link below for more details:

    https://www.gofundme.com/help-david-get-his-masters


    Best wishes/Blessings

    Jo-ke Adura xx

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    1. Thanks Adura for the comment here and on FB. I love writing stories like this and should do more in respect of the indigenous.
      Okay with the shout out to your friend.

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  6. The one who thought he'd been left to die was the one to make it.
    That really would be a horrible way to die.

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  7. God, that would be an awful way to go. I always tell someone when I'm going into no man's land, just in case. Never know when someone could walk by and find you though. Great one indeed.

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    1. We are supposed to tell people here, too, but these two dudes were too stupid to live.

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  8. This was great. I loved the pace and how the Australian influences were effortlessly incorporated. Not that I ever want to go through that experience.

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  9. Well done, as always. Your words painted the picture, beautiful, desperate, and unexpected!

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    1. Thanks Renee. Glad you're round and about.

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  10. Very powerful images, Denise. Not a good way to go!

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  11. That river of life
    he was in face deep
    in a half of day shade
    life you keep

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    Replies
    1. That river of life (the mirage) is indeed a river of death to many.

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  12. I loved this. Excellent writing, awesome story. Loved all the authentic references too - thanks for the reading tips, lol. A marvelous "yarn", and so sad, but what a glorious happy ending. That would be a terrible way to die; not sure if I'd prefer thirst or starvation.

    You've made me thirsty though. Hmm, bottle or water, or bottle of wine??

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    1. Thanks Donna. Glad you like my yarn.

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  13. I think I remember the original version of this flash. Change of face? Beautifully told - loved it then and love it now. The wilderness is magnificent but harsh. Awesome in the truest sense of the word. And aboriginals know the most about survival in the wild but have a rough time everywhere in the world.

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    1. Heh Nila, I think this is the third time I trotted it out, but I reedited it majorly this time.

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  14. This has a very Steinbeck-ish flare. Realism. Man v. nature. Survival and native instincts. While reading it, I kept hearing, "And Kino ran for a high place." from The Pearl. Great job, Denise.

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    1. Thanks Lee.. I haven't read a lot of Stephen King. Must find The Pearl.

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  15. Hi Denise - I'll be back to read ... going out shortly ... I saw Rabbit Proof Fence a few years back and it was so moving ... and being here in Canada with the First Nations around ... I get to 'see' other aspects in a broad brush way ... thanks for this - it'll be a fascinating read. All the best and cheers Hilary

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    1. Glad you've seen RPF. Great, isn't it? They study it at school here.

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  16. Oh, gosh. Until the end, I thought he was dying. I'm so happy he'll survive. A wonderful story, with lots of conflicting emotions weaved together like a tapestry. Great post!

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    1. So did he Olga. What a surprise. I'm glad I let him live. Oh, the power of an author!

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  17. Wonderful! Your descriptions made me feel like I was really there. I had to take a long drink of water after reading this. Well done!

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  18. A darn good yarn too! I'm not fond of hot dry places, so a death like that would be horrible. So glad he was found. Nature sometimes has no pity for puny humans. . .I would love to read more Outback stories.

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    1. Horrible way to die all right. I had no fun researching it. Nature wins every time...and I'd love to write some more Outback stories. Have a couple up my sleeve...or on my laptop, LOL.

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  19. Replies
    1. Lots of poor ole Herbs out there. Nice guy, but...

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  20. A well written tale filled with fantastic imagery. The Point of view narrative style took me by surprise, but it manages to aid in the flow of the story. Great job, Denise.

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    1. Thanks Christopher. I just think the POV narrative style works for this.

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  21. Fabulous writing Denise. I love that you chose stream of consciousness - it was so appropriate for your character's thirsty rambling on the brink of his own loss of consciousness. Very powerful.

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    1. Thanks Kalpaana. Your comments mean a lot!

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  22. Wow, this is a great story! With the stream of conscious method I felt like I was actually in that character's shoes. Almost painful. Now I'm thirty! ;)

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  23. I really liked it with the scenery and cultural references. I could definitely imagine how this could happen. Nice that Paddy was saved by the aboriginal man.

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    1. Happened a lot in the 'old' days. Whitefellas were pretty useless against nature.

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  24. What an amazing and powerful story. As a Native American, I always appreciate a story about indigenous, overlooked people.

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  25. That was a twist I didn't expect. Nice.

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  26. Wow what a powerful story. Poor Herb! I felt like I was right there with your narrator, terrifying. Thanks for sharing the photos too - they really added to the story.
    Great work!

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